You already know about the barbecue, and the breakfast tacos, and so much else—can we take a minute to talk about the burgers, though?
There are so many types of food Austin does well, it’s almost not fair—many a city would be thrilled to have just a sampling of that barbecue, or those tacos, or the Tex-Mex staples, not to mention the rest of it—the terrific all-day hangs, the genre-busting higher-end restaurants, the beer, the coffee, the cocktails, and the what have you. There there are so few things you cannot find here, if you are hungry, and for those visiting from other places, it’s all a bit exotic, rather exciting, not to mention slightly overwhelming.
Not to pile on, but were you aware that the burgers here are really good, too?
Those who’ve made Austin’s passing acquaintance have likely noted the presence of some of the most treasured national brands—your In-N-Out, your Shake Shack, and so many Whataburgers, because Texas. Why they’re even here, we couldn’t tell you, because there are so many homegrown favorites to choose from—what's the point of outsourcing?
With the exception of Hopdoddy on South Congress, now popping up all over—fun fact, the restaurant was co-founded by Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles’ family, they're from here—Austin’s everyday burger greats, the classic spots, the handy drive-thrus, you know, normal people burgers, the accessible and delightful burgers, most of these you won’t have heard of, yet. Let's fix that, shall we—here are five names you should know.
Since 1973, this family-owned and operated burger joint has been a destination for some of Austin’s best affordable eats; there are currently four locations around town, and a burger begins at around $2.50, topping out at around $7.50 (that’s for the double meat, double cheese, and it is pretty big, hope you’re hungry). The beef is always certified Angus, and the burgers come with mustard, and all the veggies—you can and should add peppers, for a few cents more. Homemade onion rings are a highlight, but there are curly fries and regular fries, too. Dan’s also does breakfast, including omelettes, and a pretty great chicken fried steak dinner, with mashed potatoes, salad and dinner rolls, all for around $8. Dan’s can get it.
Going all the way back to the 1930’s, this landmark just above Shoal Creek, steps from the sparkling Whole Foods flagship store at Sixth and Lamar, makes for a fine induction into the local burger scene for anyone stuck downtown at a conference, or whatever people go downtown for. (Many of the major hotels are within walking distance, just look for the vintage red sign, and you’re there.) Hut’s is more of a sit down and stay awhile joint, the meat is all fresh, never-frozen, sourced from a South Austin butcher shop. Burgers begin at less than $7, and you have to try the peppered onion rings; a side with your sandwich is just a couple of bucks.
Austin’s answer to In-N-Out became a local institution before In-N-Out showed up, along with about a million Californians—there are fifteen locations of this very good burger drive-thru right now, and while Austin does sort of sprawl out forever, it feels like you’re never far from those $2.50 all-natural, 100% Angus hamburgers, which are served with lettuce, tomato and generous amounts of the house special sauce, best paired with piles of crispy shoestring French fries, fresh cut and fried in canola oil, and served for less than $2 per order. The burgers are not enormous, but they’re priced well enough that you can go ahead and order two, if you’re super hungry. Also stop in for cheap and tasty breakfasts; they do an egg sandwich, but we’re all about the locally-roasted organic coffee for $1.50 and a hunk of homemade banana bread for about the same price. Can’t be bothered to get to P. Terry’s? They will cheerfully deliver.
The fact that this vintage joint (circa the early 1970’s) made it into Dazed and Confused, that early ’90’s Austin movie that people here still like to talk about, is kind of cool, but what matters most here are the burgers, charcoal-grilled and served with hand-battered onion rings and fried cherry pies, once again at exceedingly reasonable prices. Watching your waistline? Order the 1971 Weight Watcher Special—two broiled burger patties, a side salad, and some wheat bread. Don’t overlook the fried chicken; they sell lots of the stuff.
This humble hut has been standing watch at the increasingly congested corner of Barton Springs Road and South First Street—a corner it shares (sort of!) with a Whataburger, go figure—since the 1940’s. Maybe it’s not the cheapest burger in town, and some will admit it’s not the best, either, but it is still quite affordable, and it is also one of the most centrally located burgers, making this a great introduction for visitors hanging around on this side of the bridges. Bonus: Sandy’s serves some fine frozen custard—just the thing after getting your exercise on the nearby trails.
Now bearing down on a century in existence, and probably good for another one, this student-y diner is also known as the KumBak Place, or Dirty Martin’s Place, or Martin’s KumBak. Call it what you want—the main thing is that it’s still here, just a couple of blocks from the heart of the UT campus, serving up burgers and shakes and Frito pies, plus queso and chips to start. There have been changes, over time—the menu has grown, prices have climbed just a bit, and there are cocktails, there is beer and wine—thank goodness, the vibe is all classic diner. Grab a seat at the counter, and hang out.